Agriculture Technology Podcast Episode 136

Listen: Ep. 136 AutoPath from John Deere [Podcast]

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On the latest episode of the Precision Agriculture Technology podcast, host Tony Kramer and guest Ben Hilde discuss John Deere’s new AutoPathTM.
This advanced yet simple guidance solution uses data collected from the first pass in the field, whether spraying, side-dressing, or harvest, to establish row guidance for all subsequent field passes, no matter the machine type or width of equipment.
AutoPath is included in the John Deere Generation 4 Automation Bundle and available for either the 4600 CommandCenter™ Integrated Display or the 4640 Universal Display. It's available for use on tractors, sprayers and combines, and can be incorporated with active and passive implement guidance systems for planters, nutrient applicators, and other field equipment.
AutoPath is available now. For more information on AutoPath row guidance and other precision ag technologies, contact your Precision Ag team at RDO Equipment Co.

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Catch the full transcript here:

Tony:  Welcome back to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 136 and today we are going to be talking about Autopath.

I am very excited to bring back to the show, Ben Hilde.

Ben is a product specialist here at RDO Equipment Company, and he was recently on the show back on, I believe, it was episode 125 or six, talking about data sharing. I brought Ben back on the show today to talk to us a little bit about Autopath, but, for those that didn't hear the previous episode, Ben, why don't you just remind our listeners a little bit about your background, where you come from and how you got involved in the industry.

Ben: I started with RDO Equipment back in December of 2015. I've been here a little over five years now, in the same role, as a product specialist with the Hawley and Ada, Minnesota locations. I really enjoy working with precision agriculture, working with the cutting edge technology and even troubleshooting some of the old stuff once in a while. That's a little bit about me.

Tony: You've definitely got a passion for precision agriculture and the products that we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Thanks for sitting down with me again, to talk about another new product that is coming out to the market. John Deere recently released it, it was tested all last year. Let's dive into this Ben, Autopath. John Deere Autopath, what is Autopath?

Ben: AutoPath just got released here this winter and in full production. What Autopath is it's an advanced guidance solution, but it's a very simple guidance solution using a lot of the technology that you probably already have on your farm. What we're looking at is the planting operation, actually, is documenting every single pass that it's making through the field and transferring that exact line into the following passes, whether it be spraying, side-dressing or harvest.

Tony: You say this is an advanced tracking solutions. Does Autopath take the place for a straight track or a curve track, or how does that work essentially? Is this the new AB guidance line?

Ben: It's not necessarily taking the place of our AB guidance lines. We're actually still using our A-plus B's or our A-plus headings, in our planting operation or our strip till operation, where we're recording these Autopath lines. Then we're taking that exact guidance line and putting it into a file, that's going to be essentially one big guidance line throughout the whole field.

Tony: You had mentioned, it starts with planting and you're talking about it's documenting all of the different rows. Let's dive into more of the specifics on how this Autopath system works.

Ben: What we need on the equipment side of things, we need a source operation. Our source operation can either be a strip till operation or a planting operation. What we're doing there is we are recording every single pass that that planter or strip tiller makes. It doesn't matter if it's a headlamp pass or a back and forth pass, long rounds paths, it doesn't matter if you're driving around a rock pile and you're still planting, it records literally every single role that that planter makes. That's the gist of the planting, the source operation.

Then we upload that data into the operation center. If you've already have JDlink connect, everything will already be there. We turn around and we make a setup file for our sprayer or our side dresser. What we're going to have to include in that setup file is an Autopath file. If a lot of you people are familiar with our variety locator files, in setup builder, Autopath is very, very, very similar in how you load your setup, into your next operation, into that spraying operation, that side dressing operation, or that harvest operation.

Once that machine has that setup file in it, say we're going out to spray a field, we go into our Gen 4 display and under your set track button, you're going to have one guidance line and it's going to be Autopath. When you're running Autopath in the field, you're going to see a series of yellow lines, and you're going to see a series of blue lines. The blue lines represent the guidance line for the width of implement that you're using. The yellow lines, represent crop rows, exactly where every single crop row was planted with the planter.

Tony: You see all of these different lines on your display. You see the blue lines and the yellow lines, your guidance line and your crop row lines. How does this work when it comes to different implement widths? Here in the Red River Valley, I think a lot of guys will have a 44-foot planter, a DB 44, 24 row, 22, and maybe they've got 100-foot sprayer, or they've got 120-foot sprayer, even some have 132-foot sprayer. How does that work with these different guidance lines?

Ben: The best way to explain it. You use a 12 row or a 22-inch 24 row planters, an example, we're coming back with possibly a 132-foot sprayer here in the Valley, where we're primarily 22 inch. What Autopath is going to do is it's going to designate a auto track line, per planter for that machine. The easier example to understand is a combine, on a 24 row planter, you're probably going back and combining it with a 12 row corn head.

Going into those crop rows, it's always going to put you on one half of the planter and then the other half of the planter. You'll never have to look for a guest role again with Autopath. It always puts you on the planner pass exactly where you have to be. You're never going to have to go out there and count rows again. Essentially, making life a lot easier for inexperienced operators or even experienced operators. We've all been there and we've all tried counting rows from the cab. It's not always the easiest thing to do.

Some guys even go in there and purposely plant that little curve in there, so they can pick out that guests row. You don't have to do that anymore. We want those fields to look perfect from the road.

Tony: Wait, what you are trying to tell me is no more counting rows, no more guessing, no more closing your eyes and just shooting the gap. That tells me that there are going to be no more rows of shame after you're cleaning up a land, am I on the right track here?

Ben: You're still going to have that wedge piece, but no more one row or two row of shame. You might run into a wedge at the one end. Obviously, it starts generating from one end and goes to the other. As long as you add a full planner pass at the end of the field, no more row shame.

Tony: There we go. That's what I like to hear and of course, we're always going to have those unique situations, where you finish out the field, your fence lines aren't straight, and you've just got these wedge pieces or these odd rows there, that's always going to happen-- Not always, I guess, if you do have straight fence line rows or tree lines. That's awesome to hear and the fact that it adapts to the size of implement, to the size of tool that you're using, and it creates guidance lines based off of that.

The next question I've got, Ben, is what does it take? Obviously, we've got to do something with the planter in order to get it to record those lines, but then you talked about carrying it all the way through spring and harvest season. What hardware or software activations, what do we need in order to utilize Autopath on our farm?

Ben: We've talked a lot in these podcasts about Gen 4 and Gen 4 is the primary need that we need for Autopath. We're throwing in the towel on our GS3, and we're going to make that step forward, going to Gen 4, not bashing anything to do with the GS3 displays or the GS2 displays, but this new technology that's going to save us time and ultimately money, it all lives in the Gen 4 in the operations center.

The first thing that we're going to need on our planters at Gen 4 display, in that Gen 4 display, we need our new Automation 4.0 activation on a 4600. Automation 4.0, if you already have Automation 3.0, it's free of charge to you. You just need to notify somebody at your dealership and tell them that you would like Automation 4.0. You would like to have Autopath on your farm this year. Literally, that's all you have to do. We'll give you whatever you need to upgrade that display at that time.

If you're running a 4640 display, a universal display, you're going to need a Automation 4.0 subscription. Remember, those subscriptions are a yearly fee. Besides that on your planter, we're going to have to use StarFire 6000s. We're going to want to be running, at least, SF3 signal or RT casing. We can't run that SF1 signal on that machine. Also, on your source operation, which could be strip tilling or planting, like I noted earlier, we're going to need an implement receiver on it. With that implement receiver, that is what's actually telling the planter where it's at in the world to document all these row.

Set up on the planter is extremely important. I'm talking TCM calibrations, measurements, everything to do with that receiver on that planter and the tractor is very, very, very essential to your success with Autopath. Very easy to do. There's a new TCM calibration out there on the Gen 4. I haven't personally got to try it yet, I think it's going to work out pretty good.

If we're doing a traditional TCM calibration, if you're still comfortable with that way, we want to make sure that we're doing that exactly how it's supposed to be done by the operator's manual and double-checking it. Driving the machine on a guidance line, turning it on and driving it on a guidance line, make sure you're in the exact same tracks. On the planter, you're going to want to have a JDLink Connect subscription also to wirelessly transfer all of those lines into the operation center wirelessly. That pretty much sums up the planting operation.

Going on to our next machines, onto our sprayer and onto our combine, we're going to need that Automation 4.0 activation, and then like I talked earlier, we're going to need to send that setup file back with the Autopath files from the operation center into the sprayer, side dresser combine. It's actually fairly simple. If you already got Gen 4 technology on your farm, making it happen is just getting your hands on that Automation 4.0, and I highly encourage that JDLink Connect subscription.

Tony: Really, the way I understand it, it all starts with that planting or strip till, that spring or first pass. It's called the first pass across that field in a row crop situation. We're not talking tillage or anything like that, unless strip till is your form of tillage. In a row crop scenario, it sounds like everything starts with planting. You get your Gen 4 display, whether that be a 4600 or a 4640 Universal, you've got your Automation 4.0 activation, and then we get those receivers on whatever implement we're pulling, and then like you said, the highly encouraged, the JDLink Connect subscription to make sure that data flows wirelessly and your Autopath lines come back into the operation center automatically.

Beyond that, with spraying and harvest, you mentioned there, that really all you need is the automation activation of for your Gen 4 displays and you're good to go. Really not a lot to it. You had mentioned earlier in the show that the guys that are on that Gen 4 platform already, they're almost halfway there. They just need to add a couple of components on the initial pass. There's really not much more to it when it comes to hardware or activations.

Ben: No, there really isn't. One extremely important thing that I forgot to mention earlier, with that Automation 4.0, you're getting AutoTrac Turn Automation, and you're getting passive implement guidance with that activation. You're not just investing that money into Autopath, you're investing that money into AutoTrac Turn Automation, and that implement guidance, the passive version, and we highly recommend that you're running implement guidance on that planter, when you're recording those Autopath rows.

Tony: That's a really good point you bring up. The Automation 4.0 is not just Autopath. Automation 4.0 is literally the cream of the crop, the top-notch activation or subscription that we offer with John Deere. It gets you everything you need, implement guidance, AutoTrac Turn Automation. For those of you unfamiliar with AutoTrac Turn Automation, it turns the tractor around on its own, lifts and lowers the implement, turns it around on its own. You get all of it with the AutoTrac, aside the Automation 4.0 activation or subscription. Very good point you bring up there, Ben.

I know this past growing season, throughout 2020, you actually were fortunate enough to work with a customer that had the opportunity to test Autopath for John Deere. Tell us a little bit about that, what the customer thought, and how things went on that 2020 season of beta testing Autopath?

Ben: I was fortunate enough to work with some great people from John Deere and from this farm, all summer on this operation. I think it was 1 of 10 farms across the United States that got to beta test this product. I felt really fortunate working with Deere and with this farm on this project. There was some confusion at first, I guess, just because it was new. It was a new concept and didn't really understand, there's not the operator's manuals, the YouTube videos, any of the resources right away, obviously. You figure it out, trial by fire, if you want to call it that.

The people at John Deere were absolutely awesome to work with, getting us through the small little headaches we had at first. Honestly, we tuned three planters for Autopath to be our source operations. We're running active implement guidance on two of them. We're running passive implement guidance on one of them. All of the planter operations work seamlessly. Throughout the year we were beta testing, we did find some stuff that Deere needed to figure out, which is expected when you're beta testing. I tried to give them as good a feedback as we possibly could, and really enjoyed the product all the way through the summer.

We had the opportunity to run it on sugar beets, we had the opportunity to run it on edible beans, we had the opportunity to run it on soybeans and also corn. We were actually running it in tractors as harvesters, as well as combine and harvesters. I'm not 100% sure what John Deere is going to approve right away for crop. I'm assuming that anything in row crop is probably going to go. Don't quote me on that.

Tony: That's a good thing you bring up. We're still learning a little bit about this. John Deere just released this here this winter, so they're finalizing some stuff on their end. We're learning stuff on our end from a dealership perspective. A very good point you bring up, but the easiest thing to remember or what we would imagine is row crop. Think of your row crop situations. I know there's probably going to be some certain situations in there, where it may not work.

Row crop to us here in the Red River Valley is totally different, than row crops in the Salinas Valley or down in the Delta. They run lettuce and produce, and you go down to the Delta, and you've got sugarcane or cotton. What we would encourage you to do is just reach out to your local John Deere dealership, stop by your local RDO if you're in our area, as far as what is and isn't approved on the John Deere platform.

With that, you've thrown out all this information, Ben. If somebody wants to learn more, talk to somebody, where can they go? Who can they talk to to learn more about Autopath?

Ben: John Deere has obviously resources on their YouTube channel. There's a good Autopath video on there. If you want to see everything that I've been talking about as a visual aid, the yellow rows, the blue lines, how they light up weight when you resume AutoTrac, everything that I've been talking about, if you want to see that in live-action, Deere as a YouTube video out there.

Otherwise, RDO, we're working on some more training stuff out there. Autopath will be one of them. Come into the dealership, obviously. Give us a call. Reach out by email. Social media, some people have it, some people don't, reach out on social media. We will get you what you need to know on Autopath. We have a ton of resources from John Deere out there to make this as easy of a transition as possible for you.

Tony: I just want to thank you, Ben, for taking the time once again to sit down with me. This time we talked about Autopath, what is it, what it takes to utilize it, and how the customer can benefit from it. Thanks again for doing this.

Ben: No problem.

Tony: Thanks again for tuning in to another episode. If you have questions about the technology and products discussed or have ideas about future episodes, please leave them in the comments below. You can also subscribe to RDO's YouTube channel and be in the know about each episode, or tune in on any streaming service.